Funny the things a grown man will do for a living.
Man do I miss the old days of TV. Not that 1980 is considered part of the “classic TV” era, but I was just four years old at the time–too young to care about plot and story, but always gleefully anticipating a car chase, fistfight or explosion. And I watched plenty of car chases in my early ’80s childhood, always featuring flashy cars I could only dream of owning someday (hello Dukes of Hazzard, Hardcastle and McCormick and Knight Rider, and hello Hot Wheels!). So imagine my giddiness the first time I saw that beautiful, blood-red 1979 Ferrari 308 GTS peel out in the Honolulu grass on Magnum, P.I. in late 1980. Was there ever a sexier car? And in a strange turn of events, my mom actually tolerated this show, watching alongside me (any guesses why?). If Magnum, P.I. isn’t considered “classic TV,” it’s certainly classic TV to me!
By Jason Hink
Eventually I grew up and re-watched Magnum, P.I. for the stories during syndicated reruns on local and cable stations (okay, okay…the cars, girls and scenery are still tops), eventually picking up the DVD sets in the early early 2000s. Could the viewing experience get any better? Yes, it can–and it has! Mill Creek Entertainment has released Magnum P.I.: The Complete Series in a crisp, beautiful, high-definition Blu-ray set collecting all eight seasons of the private eye drama starring Tom Selleck, John Hillerman, Roger E. Mosley and Larry Manetti. A DVD version is also available. Special features from Universal’s old DVD releases are ported over along with new bonus interviews and commentaries produced by Ballyhoo Motion Pictures.
Click to order Magnum P.I.: The Complete Series on Blu-ray or DVD:
In case you’ve been living under
an old CRT television set a rock, Magnum, P.I. documents the adventures of Thomas Magnum (Tom Selleck), former Navy intelligence officer-turned-private investigator, who makes his dough solving mysteries for low pay (of course), of which 99% of his clients are beautiful damsels in need of mystery-solving. How can he afford such a low-paying gig? Like Jim Rockford before him, he keeps his expenses down. But unlike Rockford, he does this by landing the sweetest gig this side of Honolulu–as security-tester at the lavish Hawaiian estate of Robin Masters (voice of Orson Welles), a bestselling, globetrotting novelist who has so many homes all over the world that we never see him visit his island paradise.
At Robin’s beachside estate, Thomas Magnum lives comfortably (and free of rent!) in a nicely-appointed guesthouse, where he eats, drinks, and occasionally hosts a sleepover with whichever hottie he’s solving mysteries for that week (alright, yeah–every week). But that’s not all; he also has full and free use of Robin’s flashy red Ferrari, which he tools around in and uses to chase down bad guys and show up late to lunch appointments with his buddies, Rick and T.C. But Magnum’s sweet life (and free use of Robin’s toys and hospitality) is occasionally interrupted by another guest of the estate–the live-in head of security, Higgins (John Hillerman), who enjoys taunting Magnum by withholding use of the Ferrari and asking him to perform menial, annoying tasks around the estate grounds…and also by siccing his two dobermans, Zeus and Apollo, on Magnum, usually catching him off-guard.
These relationships are formed here in Magnum, P.I.‘s first season, which premiered on December 11, 1980 (a SAG/AFTA strike that year set back the premiere date after the pilot’s filming in February and March). In the series premiere, Don’t Eat the Snow in Hawaii (a 2-hour pilot movie co-written by series creators Donald P. Bellisario and Glen A. Larson), we see Thomas’s first encounter with Zeus and Apollo as Magnum attempts to break into the estate to test the security. We learn that Thomas has made a deal with Masters, exchanging a series of security checks for free living in the guesthouse. Higgins, we learn, flies in a couple times a year to also check on security (he apparently decided to stay full time after this episode). In this test, Magnum must break through the mansion’s exterior defenses, outsmart canines Zeus and Apollo (the “lads”), and say hi to a pair beautiful foreign Playboy models staying as Robin’s guests before “stealing” the Ferrari. When Thomas accomplishes his task, Higgins’s chagrin and subsequent interaction with Magnum sets the tone for the love/hate relationship we see for the rest of the season, with Higgins the prim, proper, by-the-book Brit, and Magnum the shorts-and-floral-shirt wearing, playboy-bachelor lady’s man of adventure.
And about that Ferrari GTS, did you know that a famous journalist wrote about driving it cross-country in 1980, delivering it for its eventual use on Magnum, P.I.? The writer, P.J. O’Rourke, hilariously concluded that “…the story ends on a sad note. The movie that this incredible car traveled all that way to be in will be called Don’t Eat the Snow from Hawaii,”). Also, is Thomas too tall for this car? Selleck’s head sticks way over the roofline, and we never see the car’s targa top in place (who needs that in Hawaii, anyway?). Nonetheless, 40-plus years later, it’s still fun watching that Ferrari tear ass on the backroads and highways of vintage Hawaii.
Like so many ’80s action heroes from my childhood, Magnum is a Vietnam veteran, which adds dramatic backstory to the frothy, exotic Hawaii-set stories, beginning from the opening moments of the pilot episode where we see the first flashback to ‘Nam. But it’s also a convenient backstory for meeting Thomas’s friends, Rick and T.C. (you can’t solve these cases by yourself, right?), who were Magnum’s buddies back during the war. Somehow, they all wound up together, living it up in Honolulu. Rick (Larry Manetti) manages the exclusive King Kamehameha Club, a great place for Thomas to meet potential clients and run up a beer tab. In the pilot, Rick owns his own club, Rick’s Cafe Americain, named after Humphrey Bogart’s club in the 1942 film Casablanca, but is quickly dispensed with by the second episode, with the King Kamehameha Club serving the same function.
So, Magnum leans on Rick for information and a meeting spot at the club (along with that ever-present booze tab)…but how does he get around the islands? That Ferrari can only do so much, after all, and driving on water isn’t one of its strong suits. Thankfully, Thomas’s friend T.C. (Roger E. Mosley) owns and operates Island Hoppers, a one-man guide service in which T.C. utilizes his military experience as a helicopter pilot to fly tourists around the islands in his colorful chopper. Magnum, of course, leans on T.C. time and again, asking favors of his friend for transportation to far-flung islands unreachable via Ferrari (and of course, he runs a tab with T.C., too–much preferred over paying for a commercial flight). With friends like Rick, T.C. and Higgins, how can this private detective business fail?
Two major TV developments occurred in early 1980 that had a profound effect on the creation and success of Magnum, P.I. as the gritty, “realistic” 1970s gave way to the colorful, sun-drenched, MTV-influenced 1980s, where realism often took a backseat to style. In April of 1980, the long-running cop show Hawaii Five-O (1968-1980) came to an end after 12 seasons. But CBS, having created expensive location sets for Hawaii Five-O in the mid-70s, wasn’t about to let them go to waste; nor was it willing to lose the 12 years of goodwill it had built with audiences on Thursday nights with its hour of action-packed crimebusting on the beautiful Big Island at 9 p.m. (where the Five-O crew followed longtime lead-in The Waltons at 8 p.m.). So, not only did CBS re-use those sets for Magnum, P.I. (I’m sure Universal, Magnum‘s production company, was happy to oblige), it scheduled Magnum in Hawaii Five-O‘s now-vacated Thursday-at-9 time slot. To complete the transition, characters on Magnum, P.I. even referred to Steve McGarrett and his Five-O squad as if they were still busting criminal ass on the Island. Viewers who missed Hawaii Five-O in late 1980 were at least treated to the same locations, settings, and general themes (crime- and mystery-solving) with Magnum, P.I., and could even consider it a sort-of spinoff. A superior marketing job by the network!
Another major TV event happened that year that indirectly affected both Magnum, P.I. and the private detective genre in general. In January of 1980, an ailing James Garner had tired of the role of Jim Rockford on NBC’s The Rockford Files, and the show came to an abrupt end just 10 days into the new decade. This left a major void in the action-centered small-screen P.I. genre–and Tom Selleck was the perfect guy to fill it. Not only did Thomas Magnum continue the tradition of the struggling, low-paid-but-resourceful private investigator, Selleck even guest starred in a couple later episodes of The Rockford Files as…you guessed it, a private investigator! (These two episodes are included as bonuses on Mill Creek’s Blu-ray set.) But tall, handsome Selleck’s character in The Rockford Files (Lance White was perfect in every way, solving cases with ease to the frustration of Jim Rockford) would differ from his Magnum character; and in fact, the Magnum, P.I. we wound up getting was starkly different than what was originally proposed.
Much has been said of Selleck’s misfortune of missing out on motion picture stardom when he was selected to play Indiana Jones for 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark. Magnum, P.I. hadn’t yet aired, but CBS had Selleck on contract and, sensing they had a star in the making (Spielberg and Lucas want this guy? We’re keeping him!), they greenlit Magnum to series, forcing the movie’s producers to eventually cast Harrison Ford in the role instead. Adding salt to the wound, the writer’s strike of 1980 pushed Magnum‘s premiere back to December, which would have allowed plenty of time for Selleck to shoot Raiders of the Lost Ark, but CBS wouldn’t budge. Ford, having found superstardom with the monster success of Lucas’s Star Wars (1977) and The Empire Strikes Back (1980), would rack up a successful theatrical career while Selleck ultimately settled for small-screen stardom (to the celebration of women like my mom all over the world).
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But more interesting to me is how we almost didn’t get the Magnum, P.I that we wound up getting. Parsing through the numerous interviews and articles, it’s not easy finding a definitive answer to exactly how Magnum, P.I. came to be, but the short of it seems to be that series creator Glen A. Larson (The Fall Guy, Alias Smith and Jones) had the idea and initial script…and when Selleck wasn’t happy with it, the actor approached producer Donald P. Bellisario (Airwolf, Tales of the Gold Monkey), whom Larson then brought on to rewrite the script and take over the show, netting Bellisario an important co-creator credit.
According to Larson, a detective show in 1980 set in Hawaii was the right move to make at that moment. And Larson, in some respects, based part of the idea on himself; he actually owned a home in Hawaii and had a guy there who took care of it living in the guesthouse. He even based the Robin Masters character on the real-life author, Harold Robbins. ABC wasn’t interested, so Universal (TV’s “sausage factory,” as it was known at the time) came calling, looking for something to place on CBS, knowing that Hawaii Five-O‘s days were numbered.
Selleck had done a number of failed pilots in the 1970s (two of them for producer Stephen J. Cannell). After Selleck reached out to Bellisario to rework the Magnum idea, Selleck remembered an old Bellisaraio script for an unproduced show called Gypsy Warriors, which Selleck liked. For this reason, he wanted to work with Bellisario, and Larson handed over the reins. Selleck’s main reasoning, according to Bellisario, was that he didn’t want to play the stereotype of the perfect, handsome, James Bond-like man-of-action that was apparently the direction of Larson’s original script. Bellisario, who had worked for Larson previously on shows like Battlestar Galactica and Quincy, M.E., repurposed an old script for a prospective P.I. show called H.H. Flynn to improve the Magnum script. Ultimately, it became Bellisario’s show, with he and Larson splitting that all-important creator credit. Magnum, P.I. “became a huge hit,” Bellisario said in an interview. “[It] made me. Instantly.”
Speaking of late-70s and 80s James Bond, Magnum walked the line with just the right amount of kitsch to balance out the required seriousness needed to capture those grizzled adult viewers demanding their Hawaii Five-O fix. The comedy between Thomas, Rick and T.C. was always a welcome break from the seriousness of the mysteries at hand, and Magnum’s relationship with Higgins can’t be understated; it would become a huge reason why many viewers loved the series. A fine example of their chemistry and humor is on display in the episode Missing in Action. In it, Higgins tells Magnum he must service the Ferrari if he’s going to use it. Thomas happily replies, “That’s all?” To which then Higgins simply walks away, his lips slowly forming a smirk, as an incredulous Magnum calls out, “Higgins?!? How much does a Ferrari tune-up cost?” This of course culminates in Magnum taking the Ferrari to T.C.’s helicopter shop, where he ropes his friend into attempting to service the Ferrari on the cheap. It’s classic Magnum, P.I.
Another common theme involving humor is the juxtaposition of Magnum as working-class playboy with the perception of “rich” Magnum (due to his living in a mansion and driving an expensive sports car). In one exchange, a would-be client (a beautiful woman, no less) walks up to the Ferrari, and a surprised Magnum says, “Hey, how did you know this is my car?” She replies, “What else would a man like you drive?” It’s here that Thomas looks directly at the camera (and the viewer), breaking the fourth wall–an early example of the charm that would eventually make the series a Top 10 hit.
And speaking of hits, Magnum, P.I. stormed out of the Nielsen gate, finishing 14th in this 1980-81 season, the first of five straight years in the Top 20. Magnum, P.I. would finish in the Top 10 in its third and fourth seasons (peaking at No. 3 in 1982-83) before an eventual slide down the ratings mountain beginning with season 5.
The original theme music for the opening credits features a jazzy, mid-tempo piece by Ian Freebairn-Smith, which is replaced after the 10th episode by the well-known Mike Post and Pete Carpenter theme we all recognize (unfortunately, Universal supplied Mill Creek with a version of the pilot episode that has the later theme, but it doesn’t detract from the episode or the stellar improvement in picture quality). However, episodes 2 through 10 do feature the proper, earlier theme. Additionally, Mill Creek Entertainment’s Complete Series Blu-ray set features a new interview with composer Post, along with new interviews with series writers, directors and producers. Also included are flashback featurettes and audio commentaries, along with the aforementioned two episodes of The Rockford Files, guest starring Tom Selleck. The new bonus features are produced for Mill Creek by Ballyhoo Motion Pictures.
Sadly, this type of classic P.I. show would virtually disappear from network television by the 1990s as a new generation of “edgy,” over-serious, so-called “quality television” programs replaced what had come before. But in 1980, it was the beginning of a Golden Decade of escapist TV mixed with exotic, tropical locales–palm trees, beaches, colorful characters and hot cars. It was a beautiful, fictional rendering of Hawaii for us poor kids stuck on the mainland who could only dream of living such a life in a fantasy world only TV could make real. Having never visited the Big Island, my entire view of Hawaii is (thankfully) still shaped by a childhood spent watching car chases, fistfights and explosions on Magnum, P.I.
The following is an Episode Guide with my thoughts on all 18 episodes of Magnum, P.I.‘s first season from 1980-1981. I’ve attempted to not include spoilers, but it’s more fun to refer back to this guide as you watch the episodes.
Don’t Eat the Snow in Hawaii (Dec. 11, 1980)
The inaugural double-length pilot episode is a fun throwback to pulp stories of the past. We meet Vietnam-era Navy vet Thomas Magnum, slumming it up at novelist Robin Masters’ sweet, beachside Hawaiian mansion, testing the estate’s security via cat-and-mouse war games with majordomo Higgins (and watchdogs Zeus and Apollo).
We’re treated to beautiful locales, beaches and the light, frothy escapism soon to be a staple of ’80s TV (including topless, skinny-dipping hotties Lillian Müller and Dorit Stevens, who happen to be “guests of Robin’s”).
Thomas must avoid killer assassins to solve the mysterious death of his Navy friend (Allen Williams) with the help of the deceased’s sister (Pamela Susan Shoop). The adventure takes Magnum to the far side of the islands where he tangles with mysterious drug runners and old war buddies thought long departed.
Executive producers Donald P. Bellisario and Glen A. Larson co-scripted this adventurous kickoff to a series that has all the hallmarks associated with these legendary TV hitmakers: action, adventure, car chases and sex. Pure ’80s escapism. Directed by prolific TV movie helmer Roger Young, it’s a great start!
China Doll (Dec. 18, 1980)
Magnum is hired by a Chinese woman (Susie Elene) to protect a valuable vase and finds himself chased by a dangerous, ninja-like assassin (George Cheung). Wait, did I say ninja? Hey, it’s 1980!
A great follow-up episode to the pilot that keeps the action, drama and lighter moments mixed perfectly, and with just the right amount of cheese.
And let me tell ya, this one has some violence! More than one person dies in this episode at the hands of the vase-chasing hitman; and speaking of hands: Magnum takes a ninja “shuriken” (a throwing star!) to the back of his hand, and is quite beat up by the end of the episode. Shades of Rockford….
Thank Heaven for Little Girls and Big Ones Too (Dec. 25, 1980)
It’s a Christmas miracle! Here, CBS actually runs a brand new episode of a new series on Christmas day! And with the Masters estate decked out in Christmas decor, it’s only natural that Magnum be called upon by five little schoolgirls to help them find their teacher (Katherine Cannon), who’s gone missing on the island after leaving the kids to themselves and taking off by herself (what?!? Would this episode fly today?)
At first blush, I didn’t think I’d like this episode, what with its obvious holiday-themed intentions pulling the focus from the giddy violence and pulp-mystery vibe of Magnum, P.I.‘s first two installments. So, I was pleasantly surprised when this episode, speedily directed by Bruce Seth Green, surpassed my expectations with misdirection, red herrings, child danger, kidnappings and general inappropriateness throughout.
Rick and T.C. get meatier supporting roles and a fair bit of the action, while Higgins is hilarious playing babysitter to the pack of schoolgirls while Magnum’s out crime-solving. Merry Christmas from the Big Island!
No Need to Know (Jan. 8, 1981)
After a short holiday break, CBS rings in the new year with a quintessential episode of escapist ’80s TV. When Robin Masters’ estate plays host to an old war buddy of Higgins’, Magnum is hired on the sly by the CIA to protect the British Brigadier (Richard Johnson), who’s actively being hunted by the Irish Republican Army. A great mix of mystery, comedy, romance and action, No Need to Know (scripted by Frank Lupo, directed by Lawrence Doheny) blends together the best ingredients of great Magnum, P.I.
In one of the season’s funniest bits, Magnum and Rick attempt breaking into a suspect’s hotel. With the mood tense, Magnum tries to quickly pick the lock. He then fumbles and drops drops the pick, leaving an already-worried Rick even more hilariously aghast. This willingness to ease the tension and have a little fun is a hallmark of early Magnum, P.I.
In a not-so-coincidental turn, two flight attendants (Robin Dearden, Mariko Van Kampen) are part of the Brigadier General’s traveling party, providing frolicking romantic options for Magnum (hello, swims on the beach!) and add another dimension of danger to the mission.
Skin Deep (Jan. 15, 1981)
Flashbacks to Vietnam play heavy in this mystery about a troubled starlet (Cathie Shirriff) who commits suicide in a most grisly manner–buckshot to the face! But why did she do it, and who drove her over the edge? Was it the slimy movie producer (Ron Masak)? The alcoholic agent (Ian McShane)? A fellow actor jealous of her success (she does low-budget jungle flicks, after all)?
A taut little mystery that engages to the end. It starts dark, with the grisly suicide…and ends dark, with Magnum and T.C. wrestling with how to cope with their memories of war in Vietnam.
Magnum name-checks Hawaii Five-O‘s McGarrett, hinting at in-universe continuity with that previous Hawaii-based CBS show of which Magnum, P.I.‘s sets used to belong. This episode is dedicated to camera tech Robert Van Der Kar, who died during its filming, as stated on-screen at the conclusion.
Never Again… Never Again (Jan. 22, 1981)
The Vietnam vet confronts lingering WWII atrocities when Magnum gets accidentally swept up in the disappearance of a Jewish friend (Robert Ellenstein). Turns out, the Holocaust survivor and his wife (Hanna Landy) are being pursued by real-life Nazis with unfinished business. But why now?
Some dark and eerie vibes in this episode that’s a reminder of a time when real WWII-era Nazis were still among us, whether we could spot them or not. In 1981, WWII had ended just 36 years earlier (even though it seemed like a lifetime ago at the time to a youngster like me).
A standout performance by Landy, who hits all the highs and lows gleefully. Directed by Robert Loggia–the first of two episodes the prolific actor would oversee this season.
The Ugliest Dog in Hawaii (Jan. 29, 1981)
The lads play second pooch to this episode’s client, Sir Algernon Farnsworth–which happens to be the name of a wealthy socialite’s (Kathleen Nolan) dog needing protection from an inept old-timer crime boss (Michael V. Gazzo) and his nephews/henchmen (Paul Gale and Michael Nader). When Magnum is paired with a biologist-in-training (Shawn Hoskins) to help with the dog’s needs, the question becomes: why is lil’ Algie such a hot prize?
A silly, nonsensical affair, with even sillier, over-the-top performances, especially by crimefather Gazzo (I found his constant screaming hilarious, but you may not). Hoskins is cute in the female lead (I laughed out loud watching her scale a short chain-link fence–in real-time with no edits–while being chased by goons with guns; it seemed quite a chore for her!), playing a sweet, but easily scared, marine biology student who’s only helping with the dog to earn class credit (unfortunately, she’s afraid of dogs).
The first episode of the series written by committee (Allan Cole, Chris Bunch, Frank Lupo), even the Ferrari is mysteriously absent from this outing, as explained in Thomas’s voiceover, but it’s a nice change seeing Magnum tooling around in Robin’s sweet GMC Jimmy (license plate Robin-3); that semi-off-road chase into a weed farm is a highlight of this episode, which some consider one of the series’ worst.
Also of note, the incidental music for The Ugliest Dog in Hawaii includes cues from what would become the iconic Mike Post and Pete Carpenter theme song. It’s also used for the end-credits here, which features some comedic outtakes.
From conception to the final credits, a complete lark.
Missing in Action (Feb. 5, 1981)
When a piano singer (Rebecca Holden) faints at the King Kamehameha Club, leave it to Thomas to whisk her away to Robin’s for recovery. Turns out, she has psychic visions of her MIA boyfriend (Francisco Lagueruela), missing in ‘Nam since ’72. Is he still alive? And if so, can Magnum find him before a government agent (Lance LeGault) tasked with killing him finds him first?
A decent outing with some silly aspects (psychic visions, Higgins putting a distressed Holden under hypnosis), but fun action with tons of gunfire and shootouts to spare. The second episode directed by Robert Loggia has some fun comedy, with Magnum taking the Ferrari to T.C. for a tune-up to save some cash–to disastrous results.
I’m always amazed at how quickly Thomas is able to woo the women. When he brings Rebecca Holden’s character to Robin’s, she tells Higgins she’s only there for a swim and dinner. “Just a swim and dinner?” Higgins asks with a laugh, rolling his eyes. “Carry on then.” Hilarious.
Jeff MacKay returns as Navy Intel buddy, Lt. McReynolds, last seen in the pilot episode. Personal favorite Holden is gorgeous as always, frolicking on Robin’s private beach in her one-piece a full 2-plus years before giving KITT a tune-up on the beach in a two-piece on Knight Rider (and I think she’s actually singing in the club; Holden is an accomplished vocalist who’s still performing today). LeGault, another fave, is always fun as the evil military agent, whether he’s hunting the same man Magnum is, or trying to track down The A-Team.
Lest We Forget (Feb. 12, 1981)
A man nominated to be a Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court (José Ferrer) hires Magnum to find a his long-lost fiancée (June Lockhart). Just how long lost? It’s been a while; he last saw her on December 6, 1941, just hours before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Finding her is a matter of national security, of course, and it just might affect his nomination to the Supreme Court (lucky for him, he’s not trying this in the 2020s).
Fun little caper, with an added bonus of seeing the the two guest leads in 1941 flashbacks played by their real life children (Miguel Ferrer and Anne Lockhart). Scatman Crothers appears as a piano man who played at the club where all the action went down in the ’40s.
Written by series created Bellisario and directed by Lawrence Doheny, there’s a genuine sentiment of honor intercutting the fiction, with some neat location filming at the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor. (Footage depicting the attack on Pearl Harbor is taken from the 1970 film, Tora! Tora! Tora!)
Oh, and there’s a great jump-scare that caught me off-guard during a rather mundane scene of exposition between Thomas and a woman he meets while investigating (Elizabeth Lindsey). I wasn’t prepared, and I crapped my pants. You’ve been warned.
The Curse of the King Kamehameha Club (Feb. 19, 1981)
Silly hokum about a Kahuna (Sol Bright) who puts a curse on the King Kamehameha Club, which results in all manner of disaster breaking out on the same weekend Thomas is competing in a rowing race on the water.
Things get serious when Rick could be the next to drop dead from the curse. But Thomas doesn’t buy it, so he investigates and looks for a reasonable answer.
The list of potential suspects is wide and varied, from a local Hawaiian beach bum (Manu Tupou) to the elderly, bedridden property owner himself (Lew Ayres). Also around for the craziness is Gretchen Corbett as a perky, hard-charging local TV reporter who won’t stop annoying Magnum.
Thicker Than Blood (Feb. 26, 1981)
T.C. gets into trouble after he flies out to a freighter at sea in the middle of the night to smuggle an old Marine friend (Vincent Caristi)–also a deserter–back to the mainland. When the plan falls to crap and T.C. lands himself in jail, Thomas and Rick try to save his bacon. But does T.C. want their help?
Pivoting away from the Magnum-solves-case-of-the-week formula, this personal episode (penned by Bellisario, directed by Doheny) helps deepen our understanding of the bond between the three Vietnam buddies, even with some hammy bits by Mosley, who goes over-the-top trying to convince us that he’s nobody’s friend!
Lt. McReynolds returns again to help Thomas, and Higgins shows some heart.
All Roads Lead to Floyd (March 12, 1981)
A cutie from Kansas (Anne Bloom) visits the Big Island having hired Thomas to find her long-lost father, who left her and her mother behind 10 years earlier, when she was just 16.
Her pops (Noah Beery Jr.) recently sent her a postcard from Oahu, so it’s Magnum on the case to track him down. But Thomas isn’t the only one searching for him as he’s caught in the crossfire between a criminal kingpin (Seth Sakai) and an old Klansman from back home (Red West).
A fun, lighthearted story, with Bloom’s happy demeanor (she’s always smiling) and Beery back in the father role after all those years as Jim’s pops on The Rockford Files. I shed tears early on when an old lady (Georgia Schmidt) rear-ends Magnum, denting the Ferrari’s bumper, much to Higgins’ (and my) chagrin.
Adelaide (March 19, 1981)
Thomas is hired to guard a prized show horse for shy, nerdy Adelaide (Christine Belford), much to the amusement of Higgins, Rick and T.C.
An old military acquaintance from Magnum’s past (Cameron Mitchell) happens to be Adelaide’s father, and he’s not a fan of Thomas having quit the military to become a private eye (that’s “investigator,” an annoyed Magnum corrects).
Another lighthearted episode with some dubious action scenes and sketchy fight choreography (and those sand volleyball scenes aren’t too convincing, either), but this is part of what gives ’80s television its never-ending charm.
Don’t Say Goodbye (March 26, 1981)
Wealthy, well known (and blind) Agatha (Mercedes McCambridge) calls on Magnum when she’s being blackmailed. She asks Thomas to pay the ransom to her blackmailers, who claim to know salacious secrets concerning her granddaughter, Amy (Andrea Marcovicci), whom Agatha was reunited with late in life.
A stellar, well written episode from T.J. Miles and Babs Greyhosky, with crisp, tense direction from stalwart Winrich Kolbe. Oscar-winning McCambridge and an emotional, realistic performance from Marcovicci help elevate this episode to the top rungs of Magnum, P.I.‘s first season, along with a great dramatic turn from a pre-Cheers Ted Danson as Amy’s suspicious husband.
A few comedic scenes with Higgins, Rick and T.C. come as welcome respites from the intensity of the case–a tale of sadness, deception, and eventually, forgiveness.
The Black Orchid (April 2, 1981)
Louise (Judith Chapman) is youthful, rich, and bored. She’s also married to Wyndom Jackson (John Ireland), one of Hawaii’s wealthiest old men, who’s “old enough to be her father.” Louise is so bored, in fact, that she plays “games,” hiring play-actors to literally put her in faux-harm’s way, only to save the day herself (or have Magnum save her, when she hires him to play along in one of her games).
The game turns deadly when real punches are thrown and real bullets start flying (do you know how much it costs to replace a Ferrari’s windshield?). But who’s behind it? Is it Wyndom, who’s jealous of Thomas spending time with his wife? Is it Louise’s sister, Christie (Kathryn Leigh Scott, Dark Shadows), who helps set up the “games”? Is it Louise herself?
After the silly opening act setting up this bizarre idea of a rich woman going to extremes to role-play a film noir life straight out of a detective novel (please tell me there are people in real life doing this!), The Black Orchid settles into an enjoyable caper with a serviceable mystery. Fun performance from Chapman as the bored beauty…and things get pretty violent in the end!
J. “Digger” Doyle (April 9, 1981)
Some rather industrious thieves are looking to cash in by stealing cassette tapes of Robin Masters’ new book (he dictates his novels into a tape recorder). When hottie security expert Joy “Digger” Doyle (Erin Gray) tricks her way into the Masters estate as a security test from Robin, it’s Higgins and Magnum who look like fools.
But Digger must then rely on Magnum (along with Higgins, Rick and T.C.), to get to the bottom of this mystery, which runs deeper than she knows, involving corporate betrayal and industrial espionage.
A fun, exciting outing, with the always-welcome and easy-on-the-eyes Erin Gray (Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Silver Spoons), well-written by series creator Bellisario and fine direction from Winrich Kolbe.
Beauty Knows No Pain (April 16, 1981)
It’s the end of the road for Magnum, P.I.‘s first season, and it goes out on a fairly lighthearted note. Magnum is hired by Barbara Terranova (the ever-goofy and quirky Marcia Wallace), who can only afford his services for a day, to find her missing fiancé, Roger (Jim Weston), but of course, she’s not the only one searching for him.
Meanwhile, T.C. coaxes Magnum into competing in the Ironman triathlon in hopes of giving his helicopter guide service, Island Hoppers, some much-needed publicity (and since Magnum is in debt to T.C., it’s the least he can do to pay some of it off).
An strange mix of A and B stories, with Marcia Wallace’s character hilariously taking on the role of Magnum’s overzealous trainer in the middle of Magnum’s search for her husband-to-be (or is he?).
Also appearing in a small role is Darby Hinton (TV’s Daniel Boone and the very Magnum-inspired detective in the glorious 1985 B-action film Malibu Express from Andy Sidaris). An innocuous, lighthearted end to Magnum, P.I.‘s first season.